Tag: Orbital (Page 2 of 2)


VINCE-CLARKE-PAUL-HARTNOLL-2-SquareIt doesn’t have to be like that…

When you have a collaborative project which sees the merging of two of the founding fathers of British Electronica and Synthpop, there is always going to be a huge weight of expectation attached to it.

For many, a joint work between Vince Clarke and one half of ORBITAL’s Paul Hartnoll would be akin to a guitar hook up between Eric Clapton and David Gilmour, such is the importance of both of the producers to the scene(s) that they helped define.

With that opening statement in mind, it is with trepidation that this album should be approached, will it live up to the legend that both Clarke and Hartnoll have created?

Lead single and opening track from ‘2Square’ is ‘Better Have a Drink to Think’, with its Casio calculator bleeps and bass pulse; everything is all very Kraftwerkian until the vocal hook takes the song into Electro Swing territory. There is a very fine line between catchy and annoying, and it’s hard at times to gauge as to which category this track falls into.

‘Zombie Blip’ which follows is a pretty perfunctory synth work-out with predictable stabs and a MAPS inspired breakdown. Probably the kindest thing to say about ‘Zombie Blip’ would be that it could possibly find a home on a computer game soundtrack somewhere. ‘Do-a Bong’ sounds like an ORBITAL pastiche, but with some very unwelcome horns and another irritating vocal. Of all tracks on ‘2Square’, ‘All Out’ has the most commercial possibilities. Very vocal-driven with an underpinning acidic 303, given a decent set of contemporary house remixes, this could conceivably chart…

What is a little unfathomable is why this album, along with the VCMG and MG projects yet again ventures down the faceless Techno route – admittedly ORBITAL were highly respected for their dance / rave anthems ‘Chime’, ‘Belfast’ and ‘The Box’, but they were successful because the tracks hinged around massive riffs and sounds which set them apart from their more Euro-centric peers. There are glimmers of quality here, but much of it comes across as throwaway, the vocals which have been recorded for the project sounding like generic / soul-less library samples.

There is nothing wrong with having splashes of humour in electronic music, both ERASURE with their ABBA tributes and ORBITAL with tracks such as ‘Style’ and live mash-ups of BON JOVI and BELINDA CARLISLE were welcome tongue-in-cheek elements in a genre that often took itself too seriously. However here, the use of brass and the vocals on the novelty Electro Swing tracks don’t seem to sit comfortably with both the ideologies of most of Clarke’s and Hartnoll’s former work.

There are sporadic moments of brilliance; ‘Single Function’ starts off like a ‘Speak & Spell’ era DEPECHE MODE track with ARP electronic percussion, before breaking down to a mournful Jarre-esque string pad and a cyclical Juno chord melody. The closing ‘Underwater’ is beautifully understated, combining a hypnotic TANGERINE DREAM sequencer melody and lead line which easily manages to sustain its five minutes track length.

The two recent JEAN-MICHEL JARRE projects have shown that primarily instrumental synth music can still have a market and ironically Clarke’s ‘Automatic Parts 1 + 2’ on ‘Electronica 1 – The Time Machine’ were head and shoulders above anything here. At least with the title of this project there is an allusion that this isn’t going to be a cutting edge album, but given the incredible skill set and equipment possessed by both contributors, this is a serious disappointment.

‘2Square’ indeed…

‘2Square’ is released by Very Records



Text by Paul Boddy
18th June 2016


8:58 is the newly christened name for the side project of ORBITAL’s Paul Hartnoll.

There are definitive threads running through this album which inevitably hark back to ORBITAL, the chronological theme of the title track and ‘The Clock’ recall the ‘Planet of Shapes’ from ‘The Brown Album’ which featured the “Even a stopped clock tells the right time twice a day” sample from ‘Withnail and I’.

The album opener and title track features ‘Star Trek Into Darkness’ and ‘Peaky Blinders’ star Cillian Murphy intoning about how throughout our lives, we are slaves to the unstoppable ticking of time and the clock.

Murphy linked up with Hartnoll when the latter was commissioned to create the soundtrack for the BBC Gangland-based TV series along with PJ Harvey and the legendary Flood (who handles mixing duties here too). Murphy also appears in the accompanying promo video which features a ‘Mr. Benn’ shopkeeper-style cameo from Paul Hartnoll himself.

‘8:58’ itself starts off in pretty slow-burning and down-tempo fashion with vocal and bell textured synths, before the track ramps up significantly towards the end with bitcrushed drums bringing the piece to a more dramatic and heightened conclusion.

Up next is ‘Please’ which features more guests in the form of Robert Smith from THE CURE and Lianne Hall – in case you are getting a sense of de ja vu here, then you would be right, as the track originally appeared on Paul Hartnoll’s solo offering ‘The Ideal Condition’.

This time around though, the original version’s ‘Satellite Of Love’ chord progression has been given a supercharged dance-oriented / square wave bass production, featuring a stabbed synth break and portamento lead riff which couldn’t be more ORBITAL-esque if they tried… interestingly, the original 2007 mix of this song is conspicuously absent from YouTube, but a few remixes exist should you wish to make a comparison, or head over to Spotify to have a listen!

‘The Past Now’ is a far more original sounding proposition, guest folk vocalist Lisa Knapp’s heavily reverbed vocals sounding gorgeous against an initially ambient wash before the track builds over a FAD GADGET style rhythm track. The song builds dynamically throughout with more contemporary sounding eight beat stabbed chords – the lush sound of this track is a definite highlight here, the vocal textures recalling the wonderful Liz Fraser in places.

unthanksHartnoll is a self-confessed folk fanatic and again dips into vocalists from this genre by featuring THE UNTHANKS on a version of THE CURE’s classic ‘A Forest’. But he resists the temptation to up its tempo, going for a more funereal and understated feel instead.

The familiar intro and outro guitars are re-imagined on synths and the whole approach even outdoes the original atmosphere of the track to take it to a far darker place altogether.

The left and right panning on Rachel and Becky Unthanks’ vocals help to give the interpretation of the song a more claustrophobic / intimate feel throughout, yet complementing the electronic sheen of the production.

Purely instrumental tracks ‘Broken Up’ and ‘Nearly There’ help bring the album towards a close, the latter being the most up tempo and 4/4 oriented track on the album, a frenetic almost early psy-trance feel to the sequencing.

Final track on ‘8:58’ is the haunting ‘Cemetery’, again another vocal-led piece with lyrics from the 18 year old Holly AKA ‘Fable’. Vocal cut-ups and a mix of 4/4 and breakbeat drums recall ORBITAL again without being an out-and-out pastiche. Staccato percussive KRAFTWERK synths echo around the stereo field and another heavily reverbed vocal leads into a melancholic but euphoric chord progression as the track rounds off the album perfectly. The main vocal hook on the song is “We are made of symmetry”, but a play on words gives the song its conclusive final title.

Overall, the clean synthetic production and sound of ‘8:58’ is superb with Flood being the perfect choice to handle the mixdown.

The album certainly holds its own against the last ORBITAL product ‘Wonky’, but with the cancellation of the recently scheduled 8:58 tour, there surely must have been have been a few regrets that this didn’t become a full-on collaboration with brother Phil – this certainly would have guaranteed a higher profile and potentially higher tickets sales.

On the flipside, Paul Hartnoll should still be given credit for putting his all into this work, one which shares a perfect sonic space and parallels with the recent SUSANNE SUNDFØR release, which in places has a similar sound. Will the eventual outcome of this album lead to another ORBITAL reformation? Only time will tell…

‘8:58’ is released by ACP Recordings and available now in CD, 2CD, download, deluxe download and double vinyl formats via the usual retailers




Text by Paul Boddy
6th April 2015

METROLAND Triadic Ballet

When KRAFTWERK’s ‘Trans-Europe Express’ was released in 1977, it was a landmark album that showcased European Modernism and synthesizer technology at its highest level.

With futuristic sounds produced using instruments by Moog, ARP, Vako and Matten+Wiechers, these machines however were beyond the pockets of most aspiring young electronic musicians.

But as Walter Gropius, founder of the Bauhaus art school said: “Today’s luxuries are tomorrow’s norm” and those aspiring young electronic musicians subsequently took advantage of the affordable synthesizers that had emerged from Japan, made by the likes of Roland and Korg.

Today in 2015, Gropius’ vision is total reality, with the sounds and timbres of KRAFTWERK now able to be purchased for less than £100 via the Synth-Werk VST and controlled from a home workstation.

Gropius’ theories about uniting art and technology in his 1932 lecture ‘Kunst Und Technik – Eine Neue Einheit’ are celebrated by METROLAND on their ambitious new concept album ‘Triadic Ballet’.

“Art begets art” so the saying goes; Passenger A and Passenger S have developed on the Gesammtkunstwerk of their debut long player ‘Mind The Gap’.

But now inspired by the basic principles of design; unity, hierarchy and variety, the duo have recorded their musical tribute to the German movement led by Walter Gropius, Hannes Meyer and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe.

The epic three part opener ‘Design’ salutes those principles with an impressive barrage of blips and blops in an impressive 11 minute musical journey. It starts sedately with ‘Unity’ before a sonic blast into ‘Hierarchy’ before it sweeps into a widescreen dance experience for ‘Variety’ without entering into four-to-the-floor monotony. In another triadic approach (geddit?), Gropius, Meyer and van der Rohe are honoured in ‘3 Directors’ with a track that changes mood throughout its 5 minutes. It is wonderfully stern, propulsive stuff that captures the internal political tensions affecting the Bauhaus movement.

While voice and dialogue samples are prevalent throughout the album, there are no vocal toplines as such to speak of, even vocodered ones. All the tuneage comes from synthesizers and rhythmical passages, so this is effectively, an instrumental record in all but name.

‘Ikone Der Moderne’ borrows from ORBITAL and displays the urgency that ‘Triadic Ballet’ possesses compared with some of the steadier soundscapes of ‘Mind The Gap’.

That dreamier approach though does make a return for the single ‘Zeppelin’ but it’s a red herring… following on, a harder, more industrial stance becomes embroiled in the template of ‘Machines Gone Mad’ and the Gothic laden title piece.

A METROLAND album cannot get reviewed with a mention of the ‘K’ word so the spectre of Düsseldorf, Deutschland’s art capital, looms most heavy on ‘Art + Technology’ and the more frantic ‘Struktur’. The mood continues with ‘Les Trois Couleurs’ but the pulsating kinetic energy of ‘The Manifesto’ is less Kling Klang and acts as a sound sculpture to articulate the values of Bauhaus.

Some pretty Synthanorma Sequenzer effects on ‘Utopia’ provide the backbone for a progressive soundscape that nicely encompasses the Bauhaus vision of a utopian world as one true man machine.

It is a fitting, conclusion to a geometrically sharp meisterwerk that the house of construction would truly be proud of.

For those that wish to extend their viewing, ‘Triadic Ballet’ adventures into remix territory over two further albums with reinterpretations by the likes of FOTONOVELA, DEUTSCHE BANK, NATTEFROST and many more. These work as enlightening variations on the theme, like all good artworks.

THRESHOLD’s take on ‘3 Directors’, although not radically different, is turned into an express train ride while OBERKAMPF’s version plays rather a lot with the portamento setting. The rework of ‘The Manifesto’ by FRANCK KARTELL though is barer, yet driven by some fat white noise whips.

But for those happy with a purer art form where less is more, the main act from Belgium’s favourite fulfils the role quite nicely. They may have the spectre of KRAFTWERK looming over them (doesn’t everyone?) but with ‘Triadic Ballet’, METROLAND have proved they are now a credible, sustainable electronic entity on their own.

‘Triadic Ballet’ uses the following synthesizers and drum machines…

Novation Supernova, Novation Bass Station, E-MU Proteus, Kawai K1, Oberheim Matrix 1000, Roland JP8000, Waldorf Microwave, Quadrasynth, Yamaha CS6X, Casio SK5, Nord Lead 4, Roland Juno 60, Korg MS10, Korg MS20, Roland D50, Akai XR10, Boss DR Rhythm 55, Boss DR Rhythm 110, Roland CR78, Roland TR808, Roland TR909

‘Triadic Ballet’ is released on 16th April 2015 by Alfa Matrix as a 3CD deluxe boxset and digital download which can be pre-ordered from http://alfa-matrix-store.com/metroland-triadic-ballet-3CD





Text by Chi Ming Lai
Boekentoren Photos by Kristel Nijskens BE
29th March 2015


Los Angeles based duo SOFT METALS’ debut album was a promising collection of danceable bubbly electronics, with one foot in the squelch ‘n’ bleep framework of ORBITAL and the other in more experimental climes such as THROBBING GRISTLE.

Wonderful tracks like ‘Eyes Closed’, ‘Psychic Driving’, ‘Do You Remember?’ and ‘Voices’ showcased Patricia Hall angelically vulnerable voice over Ian Hicks’ inventive vintage synth and drum machine interplay. However, some of the album’s other tracks were slightly on the repetitive side so for their second album ‘Lenses’, the tracklisting has been rationalised to eight key musical constituents in just 37 minutes.

Layered with reverbed sequences and driven by the snap of analogue rhythm composers, ‘Lenses’ continues where ‘Soft Metals’ left off and visually, the artwork follows the continuity of its predescessor as if to indicate this. Like Astrud Gilberto gone electro with CHRIS & COSEY at the production helm, the ‘Lenses’ title track sets the scene and is vibrant yet dreamy. The wonderful launch single ‘Tell Me’ is one of the duo’s trademark adventures in hypnotism like earlier single ‘Voices’ but adds some unsettling bursts of portamento for an aural twist.

Easing off the tempo slightly with a strange, almost electro-reggae beat, ‘When I Look Into Your Eyes’ is sexily morbid with Patricia Hall exclaiming “I wonder how it ends?” when “I die and he dies, we all die!”. Following that, ‘No Turning Back’ builds with pulsing arpeggios but swathed in a bare, eerie atmosphere, it retains the ice maiden quality prevalent throughout the SOFT METALS sound.

SOFT METALS are adept as instrumentals as ‘Celestial Call’ from the debut and their ‘Close Encounters Of The Third Kind’ tribute ‘Implanted Visions’ have proved. ‘Hourglass’ allows Hall to take a breather and this beautiful wordless wonder sections nicely with some fabulous harmonic oscillations. This vibrancy continues on ‘In The Air’, another metallically tingly and danceable tune that harks back to the days of acid house.

Also, complimented by that hard acid squelch, ‘On A Cloud’ does what it says on the tin and ventures into neo-ambient territory despite its lively tempo construction. But ‘Interobserver’ goes the full hog with a lengthy surrealistic journey that throws in the spectre of cosmic legend KLAUS SCHULZE. It’s all very brave but quite whether it belongs on an album of songs though is debatable.

But overall, where SOFT METALS will appeal over other girl / boy duos is that their approach is quite visceral. How many times is does it seem XENO & OAKLANDER are deliberately singing off-key, that CRYSTAL CASTLES are being as difficult as possible by piling on the distortion or that TOMORROW’S WORLD won’t up the tempo in case it’s seen as uncool?

With their Eurocentric influences, shadowy techno template and altered state of escapism, SOFT METALS make the best of what they’ve got and run with it.

Between their first two albums, Ian Hicks and Patricia Hall have showed their potential and proved they can produce some excellent work.

When they push all the right buttons, SOFT METALS are quite superb.

‘Lenses’ is available now on Captured Tracks as a CD, blue vinyl and download




Text by Chi Ming Lai
Photos by Suzy Poling
15th July 2013

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